A few weeks ago in February, I visited Sri Lanka for a very special event.
Sightsavers and the Sri Lanka Ministry of Health jointly launched a report on the National Survey of Blindness, Visual Impairment, Ocular Morbidity and Disability which was primarily funded by us with some contributions from CBM to the disability component.
The survey started in 2012 and took nearly three years to complete. It was jointly led by researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the College of Ophthalmologists of Sri Lanka and the Indian Institute of Public Health Hyderabad. The workshop was very well attended by government officials, senior health managers, clinicians, international organisations and the media.
Sightsavers has worked in Sri Lanka for nearly 30 years and our programme there closed at the end of March. This survey provided us with an excellent opportunity to assess the impact of Sightsavers’ work towards the elimination of avoidable blindness in Sri Lanka.
The survey showed very positive results with only 1.7 per cent of blindness among people aged 40 years and above, which was lower than expected and lower than in many low and middle income countries. Cataract coverage was high (over 85 per cent of blind people who needed surgery had received it); cataract surgery quality was not ideal but relatively good and better than in many similar settings (over 59 per cent had good visual outcomes improving to 75 per cent with correction).
The survey also identified a range of challenges that more developed eye health programmes, such as the one in Sri Lanka, may face while progressing towards the elimination of avoidable blindness goals. These included an inequitable geographic distribution of eye health services, meaning unequal access to services depending on which part of the country you happen to live in. This is something Sightsavers needs to thoroughly review and learn from.
In the meantime I would like to congratulate everyone who worked on this study, on the completion of this important piece of work and on the very good results, which indicate the effectiveness of our long-term support in Sri Lanka.
Read the final report
By Elena Schmidt, director of strategic programme innovations and development, evidence and research and Sightsavers